MIT researchers are designing a wheelchair that responds to verbal commands and remembers how to get various places. Outside, it uses GPS for wayfinding. Inside though, GPS doesn't work so well so the researchers are investigating positioning schemes using WiFi, cameras, and laser rangefinders. They're currently testing a prototype in a Boston nursing home. From MIT News Office:
Just by saying "take me to the cafeteria" or "go to my room," the wheelchair user would be able to avoid the need for controlling every twist and turn of the route and could simply sit back and relax as the chair moves from one place to another based on a map stored in its memory.Robot wheelchair (MIT)
"It's a system that can learn and adapt to the user," says Nicholas Roy, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and co-developer of the wheelchair. "People have different preferences and different ways of referring" to places and objects, he says, and the aim is to have each wheelchair personalized for its user and the user's environment.
Unlike other attempts to program wheelchairs or other mobile devices, which rely on an intensive process of manually capturing a detailed map of a building, the MIT system can learn about its environment in much the same way as a person would: By being taken around once on a guided tour, with important places identified along the way. For example, as the wheelchair is pushed around a nursing home for the first time, the patient or a caregiver would say: "this is my room" or "here we are in the foyer" or "nurse's station."